By Kathy Balmer
I am well past the age of hoping to get pregnant. In fact, if that actually happened at this point I would probably go off the deep end into insanity. However, I’m still somewhat scarred by my experiences of infertility and even to this day I find myself becoming a little bitter when women talk about when they will choose to conceive as though it is like taking a vacation and as simple as calling the travel agent to make the arrangements. True, that’s how I had hoped to start out some twenty years ago, when trying to have a baby. It didn’t quite go that way.
After the years of pain, anger and frustration that couples suffering infertility know, my husband Dan and I, were thrilled to hear that I was finally pregnant. Our beautiful daughter, Jenna, was born but the feeling of relief that we had this perfect, healthy baby was quickly overshadowed the next day, when we discovered she failed her newborn hearing screening. “It could just be fluid in her ears,” is what we were told at first. After months of difficult testing we were given the news that she was moderately to severely hearing impaired meaning she could hear loud noises, but not most speech sounds. She would need hearing aids in order to acquire speech and language.
When you find out your baby has special needs, the emotions are overwhelming and very similar to those of infertility. Why me? Now, why my baby?? I remember the folder given to me at the hospital when she was diagnosed, which contained all of the information about how we were to proceed in finding services for Jenna. I just let it sit neatly on the table for days after I set it there, staring at it in disgust. I hated that folder and all it represented. But when I worked up the courage to open it, I found something that has stuck with me and really did help me in some small, but significant way. There was a poem written by Emily Perl Kingsley entitled, "Welcome to Holland" about raising children with disabilities. I highly encourage all parents to read this poem, but especially parents with special needs children.
So this was my lot in life…God doesn’t give you more than you can handle…it could always be worse…and so on and so on. All true and you carry on the best you can and decide that this will in fact build character and you realize you can still live a “normal” life and be happy. Naturally, this means trying for baby number two. “Now your body knows what to do…” was among my favorite comments as I faced infertility the second time. It just wasn’t going to happen even via the method we used to conceive Jenna. But we were consumed by her needs and life in general just like everyone else so we accepted it and decided to move on.
I still remember when the switch inside me flipped while watching the horrible events of the earthquake in Haiti in January 2010. We had just moved into a new house and things were finally going smoothly. Jenna had been through lots of ups and downs and had received her first cochlear implant after going progressively deaf from age 2.5 – 4 years old and she was catching up and doing well. Why couldn’t I just be settled and happy?! I believe God intervened and wouldn’t let me give up on the idea that I needed to help and I needed to adopt a child in need. As I started researching the internet I quickly realized that there were already plenty of families ready and waiting to adopt the children in Haiti who were in need before the earthquake. It didn’t seem as though I was really going to be able to help those children. However, in the process of my investigation I found that there was a desperate need for children in the foster system in my own country. I was pretty clueless up to this point because I had never wanted to adopt. But something inside me or God Himself kept driving me towards it. We knew we wanted to adopt a child younger than Jenna and were repeatedly told we were not needed. Only families willing to adopt children 10 years or older were preferred. Nevertheless, I pursued it and we went through the classes, home study and piles of paperwork and became licensed to adopt.
We had received just a couple of profiles for children during our first week of waiting, but after that it was quiet…too quiet for months. I knew in my heart it wasn’t going to happen so that is when I decided to start searching for a child where we would have the advantage – a child who was deaf. Once that search started it was a matter of days and then there he was. We saw him and there was something about that face. I knew then that we would name him Jack.
I was just sure we didn’t have a chance at getting this child since we hadn’t even started the process for international adoption and he would be long gone by the time we were up to speed. I can still remember the disbelief as though I had found the easy button when the social worker told me we could pursue him since we were already home-studied. Really?? And then after submitting the home study and writing a letter to his case worker, it was only a matter of days when we received the emails notifying us that we had been matched as his family! Well, the feeling of easy didn’t last long.
I was frenzied trying to make it through the process at light speed so I could get Jack home and get him in for cochlear implants. Time was ticking away as was his optimum time for learning speech and language. There were times when I was so consumed with anger at the roadblocks and red tape yet knowing all along that I would be writing a story about the whole experience in no time. Just 10 months after finding Jack on the internet, we were flying to China to bring him home.
On one hand, we didn’t have to overcome the obstacle of a child who was learning to speak Chinese. On the other hand, we were now caring for our son who had NO language for the 3.5 years of his life! We knew we had to act fast. Jack came home on Thanksgiving Day of 2011 and he was enrolled in his deaf/hard of hearing preschool by the first day back to school in January. His cochlear implant surgery was performed at the end of February and the activation was at the beginning of March. He was fully hearing and ready to learn to listen and talk! Simple as that, right? Well, not exactly…
Jack is one of the smartest kids I’ve ever known and this can be verified by anyone who spends just 5 minutes with him. But learning speech and language takes time. This was going to be harder than it was for Jenna, who was extremely benefitted by early intervention. Teaching Jack just the concept of language and that it was going to take more than crying, whining or pointing to get what he wanted was one of the biggest challenges. Compound that with the multitude of hurdles in international toddler adoption and there are days where you question your survival. It’s hard. It’s really hard and you have to be prepared to sacrifice a lot and have your world turned completely upside down. But then it happens…you start to watch the transformation of a little boy who was lost in his world of silence and is suddenly submerged in this new world of hearing, listening and language. He starts to respond to the calling of his name and at four years of age he says his first word. You can see him understanding that things have a name and everyone knows the same meaning for it. He hears music and smiles and shares his sister’s mp3 player to listen to her songs. He dances in place of standing still in a room full of moving people. Sure, it’s nothing different than what every parent experiences with their child except you know that you made this extraordinary decision for someone else’s life and that they will someday be able to tell you that you made the right choice.
Kathy Balmer is a working mother of two and has been happily married to her husband, Dan for over 12 years. She grew up as an only child and first learned about the pain of infertility through the experiences of her parents who were unable to conceive after she was born. This grief transitioned to Kathy’s adulthood as she went on to face her own issues with infertility. Determination, persistence and a sense of humor guided Kathy toward her vision of a family over a course of many years. With a deaf daughter born to her and a deaf son who was adopted from China, it is an entirely different picture than what she imagined at the beginning. But her journey was worth it all.